I was convinced the captain on my flight from Boston to New Orleans was trying to be funny, but no – people really do say N’awlins! At least down here in Louisiana. And any way, it does sound much more exotic than “New Orleeens” ;)
And speaking of which, I’m convinced New Orleans must be the most exotic city in the USA. With Spanish, African, Creole & Caribbean and French influences all blended together this place could be anywhere in the world! It’s a big colorful mix that is as American as it is not. And it somehow just feels right.
I visited The Big Easy in late January, just before Mardi Gras kicked off, when accommodation was still affordable and the tourist crowds were more or less manageable. But even then there were so many things to see and do – marching bands were practicing, the houses were beautifully decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors - gold, green & purple – and I even saw some floats on the streets already!
Then there is Bourbon Street – the party street in America. Popular with bachelor & bachelorette parties, tourists and the spring break crowds, this is a street lined by bars, restaurants and night clubs (and certain other establishments). Pedestrianized by night the whole place turns into one big party zone. It’s much quieter by day but certainly worth a visit as the beautiful architecture is barely visible at night. This is after all right in the middle of the French Quarter – the heart & soul of the city.
New Orleans was indeed founded by the French in the very early 18th century. Later it was ceded to the Spanish and then returned to the French. In 1803 Napoleon sold it to the United States in what was to become known as the Louisiana Purchase. The state was even known as The Republic of Louisiana for a brief period, before joining the Confederate States and then once more becoming part of the United States of America in 1862.
Random fact: Ironically, most of the architecture you see today in the French Quarter is actually of Spanish heritage built during the decades when Spain governed the city. One of the oldest, best-conserved French-period buildings, however, is the early 18th century Old Ursuline Convent.
Canal Street is often called the widest street in the US - which may or may not be true but in all fairness it’s incredibly wide for an inner-city shopping street! The plan was to build a huge canal through the city. That never happened and instead they built what is now Canal Street. It’s here were you shop, stay at fancy hotels or take one of the famous red or green street cars. Bourbon Street is just off Canal Street and if you walk all the way down to the end of Canal you’re at the shore of the majestic Mississippi river – with its famous bridge and old-school steamboats! And once you’re down there turn into Decatur – my favorite part of the city! It’s a long street that runs parallel to the Mississippi and it’s full of buskers, crazy costume shops, several tourist offices and souvenir stores.
Decatur is also home to the famous Cafe du Monde (I’ve never queued up so long for a cup of coffee!) and the beautiful French Market.
So much for now, next week I’ll show you the coolest little Jazz bar, take you to a Basketball game & introduce you to a creepy little friend we made in NOLA... So long!